Variability In Adult Learners   Leave a comment

One of the great challenges as an educator as Long, described, “…is to discover the problematic element that will arouse and maintain the interest of adult learners regardless of their global or specific motives for learning” (as cited in Galbraith, 2004, p. 28). Within a classroom setting there are a variety of adult learner differences for instance, gender, learning styles, ethnicity, culture, and academic ability (Huitt, 1997, para.). Long also suggests other variables for example, the physiological which incorporates vision, hearing, energy, and health. One or more of these could pose as a distraction for the student. The psychosocial variables consist of cognitive characteristics, personality, experiential, and role characteristics. All of these have implications for understanding the adult student.

As a teacher, harnessing the variabilities that my students display and getting the most for them could include cooperative learning in which adult learners are placed in heterogeneous groups as Johnson & Johnson (2000) reported, “…cooperative learning is instruction that involves students working in teams to accomplish a common goal, under conditions that include the following elements: Positive interdependence, individual accountability, promotive interaction, appropriate use of collaborative skills, and group processing” (Johnson & Johnson, 2000, p. 7 as cited in Felder & Brent, 2007, p. 2). In my opinion it is important to focus on who is being grouped together since the idea is that all students learn. What if groups were based on class, gender or race what would the outcome be? Only a small percentage of students would learn.

An idea for psychosocial variables that may help adult learners is to create an inclusive learning environment that will promote student choices, increase self-esteem, motivation, and student freedom. Hollander & Hunt (1963) commented, “…that an individual’s impressions of a situation, including another person, result from three major elements: the situation, other people, and the perceiver (as cited in Galbraith, 2004, p. 32). If an adult learner is uncomfortable and frustrated the psychosocial risk and physiological health issues could increase resulting in the student losing their attention span regarding a subject.

Experiential variables can include participation within a group. According to Long the grouping of adult learners, “In most fortuitously formed groups we should expect to find some individuals with personality and cognitive characteristics that are fine tuned to make the most of the learning opportunity…At the other end of the spectrum, we should also expect to find some adults for whom it will be very difficult to address the content, skill, or task to be learned (as cited in Galbraith, 2004, p. 34).

As a teacher I will propel my students forward by utilizing activates and strategies to motivate learning in which diversity and knowing students various variabilities will become my foundation.

Felder,R. M. & Brent, R. (2007). Cooperative Learning. Retrieved from,
Galbraith, M. W. (2004). Adult Learning Methods: A guide for effective instruction. Malabar: Krieger Publishing Company.
Huitt, W. (1997). Individual differences. Educational Psychology Interactive. Retrieved from, from



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